Through the first 40 minutes of their Tuesday tilt against the Stars, the Anaheim Ducks looked like a team destined to remain at the bottom of the conference standings. Dallas (a team with troubles of its own) was figuratively skating circles around the foul fowl, which entered the contest with five straight losses.
But what a difference a period can make. After closing a three-goal deficit to two late in the middle stanza, Anaheim roared back (or ‘quacked back,’ I suppose) to tie the game and eventually win late in the extra session, 4-3.
The catalyst for the comeback: unknown rookie Dan Sexton, who scored the first and second goals of his career in just his ninth period of NHL hockey.
“I’d say it was probably the coolest feeling,” Sexton told media members after the game. “Take my coolest previous feeling and multiple it by 10, if not more. That is what it was.
“I thought we were due to score. But once it actually happens, you’re in shock. To get another one after that, it just felt like a dream.”
Sometimes that’s all a turnaround takes, whether it be a game or a season gone wrong – a little enthusiasm from an unexpected source.
And why shouldn’t Sexton be excited? The 22-year-old, after spending a pair of seasons playing college hockey at Bowling Green, had stops in both the ECHL (18 games) and American League (five games) this season before getting his chance in The Show.
It’s tough to put a finger on specifically what’s happened to the Ducks this campaign, but the play from the secondary/depth guys has clearly been an issue. (As has a depleted ‘D’ corps, but any blueline with Scott Niedermayer playing half the game isn’t that bad off.)
Anaheim’s top-end skaters have held up their part of the bargain – Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are 1-2 in league scoring since late October and Teemu Selanne had 14 goals before breaking his hand – but contributions from the second line on down are a must for a team to have regular success.
That hasn’t been there for the Ducks; Saku Koivu has disappointed and Bobby Ryan and Joffrey Lupul have been up and down. No one else has consistently stepped up to fill that gap.
It’s unlikely Sexton will be that guy (though stranger things have happened), but it’s almost unfathomable that those wearing the underachieving feathers will stick together. Selanne’s injury will have a responsibility trickle-down that I suspect will light a fire under multiple Ducks. Plus, the addition of Kyle Chipchura was a crafty move that will pay long-term dividends and go a long way towards replacing Sami Pahlsson’s shutdown skill.
A crease correction is also in order. Neither J-S Giguere (4-4-4, 2.64 goals-against average, .913 save percentage) nor Jonas Hiller (7-9-2, 3.13 GAA, .906 SP) have played anywhere near what they’re capable of and one, if not both, will begin to paddle in the right direction sooner than later.
When the turnaround begins, Anaheim will quickly find themselves back where they belong: in the thick of the playoff picture.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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